3 Tectonic trends shaping digital in 2017

Wesley ter Haar

Wesley ter Haar is co-founder of MediaMonks and European Chair of SoDA. He co-founded MediaMonks in 2001 with an aim to wage war on mediocre digital production. A fan of tight deadlines and a giver of spectacular high fives, Wesley has worked tirelessly to grow MediaMonks into creative production company with global reach. He spent his late teens and early twenties wrestling the beast that was Flash in a basement office that technically did not existent according to building schematics. In the years since, MediaMonks has grown to accommodate 600 Monks, with offices in ten cities around the world.

They say only fools, charlatans and liars predict the future. But that’s not true. In fact, there are three trends shaping digital in 2017 I’m willing to bet one.

Digital Design: Legacy brands are catching up

A real shocker, and not to be confused with designed digital. Nike already proclaimed, “the interface is the brand” in 2012, and so it must be true by now. And it is.

First you had products, then you had advertising, and now it’s interfaces that define our experiences with brands. A bad app is a bad ad. Or even worse. Instead of enhancing our experience, poorly designed interfaces depress and detract from it.

Of course, the cool kids have known this for years. In fact, I should argue that it’s because of this full-on embrace of digital design that brands such as Adidas, Nike and Sonos are deemed cool and successful; Nike+ = branding in your (inter)face.

So, what makes these truisms a tectonic trend for 2017? Legacy brands and B2B are now following suit, shaking off their dusty jackets and demanding top-notch digital design across the board.

AR & VR: From skunkworks to adland to entertainment

For exactly one month, AR went mainstream in 2016. With an estimated couple hundred million downloads, Pokémon GO has been the most popular application of augmented reality to date.

And of course, there’s also the ever-present quickly disappearing Snapchats, which use AR ‘lenses’ to augment mundane moments. Spectacles, Snap’s smart glasses, may take AR to another level of popular prestige this year, but contrary to some, I think there’s a great future and market for handheld AR applications, too.

VR hasn’t had its Pokémon GO moment yet, but if money and creative minds keep flocking to it, this production Pokémon will continue to grow and evolve. Because after nerds and advertisers, big entertainment is getting serious about VR. Distribution remains a challenge, however, with a fragmentation of headsets and content causing a fragmented user base. VR will literally be everywhere you look, but that’s not necessarily a good thing when it comes to production (costs) and ROIs.

Maybe AR and VR should get together? As they say, it takes two to Tango.

Chatbots: On the rise but not taking over (yet)

Chatbots are the talk of town. And indeed, 2017 will see a sharp increase in things-you-can-talk-to; from conversational interfaces to voice-based applications for Echo, et al. Spoiling-the-fun alert: this is not always an improvement over traditional interfaces.

Just because something is ‘smart’ doesn’t make it better than a ‘stupid’ (but well-designed) interface that simply shows you the available content and actions. It’s easier to point-and-click through a visual overview of pizzas than to type-and-ask a chatbot. The value a chatbot provides needs to justify the interaction costs (in the borrowed pizza example the number of taps required to order a pizza).

For a lot of brands and agencies, the next year will be about figuring out what works and what doesn’t, what’s possible and what is preferable. Cloud-based services will play a key role in defining and levelling the playing field. It’s companies like Amazon, IBM and Google that are enabling smaller companies and start-ups to tap into AI, machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision and the all the other good stuff that goes into smart applications and chatbots.

In sum, 2017 will see technical breakthroughs but whether the chatbots themselves will have their big breakthrough this year remains to be see. (Siri declined to comment on the issue.) It’s not so much the technology as the application of the technology that needs to get smarter.

As with AR and VR, and to a lesser degree digital design, many companies are still figuring out how to stay on top of trends in digital. Companies don’t want to fall for buzzwords but neither do they want fall behind. What’s smart? Innovative. But do it in a smart way, not because it’s smart.

*This article was originally published in the SoDA Report 2017.

 

 

Tags: chief digital officer, digital strategy, marketing strategy, digital marketing, emerging technology

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